Gifts from nursing faculty launch birth companion program

Clinical faculty members Susan Lindner, M.S.N., RNC (B.S.’04/N), and Kathleen Bell, RNC-OB, WHNP-BC (B.S.’07/N; M.S.’11/N), know what it’s like to blaze trails. In addition to their work to improve women’s health through education and research, they were the first recipients of a Clinical Scholars grant at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Nursing.

Lindner and Bell, both in the school’s Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, recently completed the Clinical Scholars’ inaugural project, “Improving Birth Outcomes Through a Birth Companion Program: Educating Nursing Students as Doulas.”

The project’s goal was two-fold: to improve high-risk birth experiences among underserved expectant mothers and to train doulas. Doulas, or lay birth coaches, help lessen the use of medical interventions before, during and after childbirth by providing informational, emotional and physical support.

“It was an honor to have been selected for the award,” Lindner said. “We appreciate the opportunity to provide a rich experience for expectant mothers as well as our students.”

The doula concept is not new to VCU. Lindner worked with eight nursing students and four expectant mothers in 2010 when doula preparation was offered as part of the community health course.

Recognizing a need to help the School of Nursing recruit and retain top clinical faculty in spite of a nationwide shortage, Barbara H. “Barbie” Dunn, Ph.D., RN (B.S.’70/N; Ph.D.’84/SW), Judith B. Collins, M.S., RNC, FAAN (Cert.’75/N), and her husband, Joseph M. Teefey, and JoAnne K. Henry, associate professor emerita, helped establish the Clinical Scholars Program to realize their goal.

Individual donations and a gift from the Jenkins Foundation, totaling more than $216,000, helped the Clinical Scholars Endowment become a reality. The Richmond Memorial Health Foundation contributed a $100,000 challenge grant for funds to keep the program operating until the endowment reaches at least $350,000.

The Clinical Scholars award, of up to $15,000 annually, provides opportunities for a variety of nursing projects, such as the doula initiative. Grant applications could involve clinical practice, teaching, faculty development or research for clinical, nontenure track faculty similar to the support provided to research faculty through endowed professorships.

“Barbie and her colleagues made a very compelling case and were very passionate about what they wanted to do [to attract bright clinical faculty],” said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing. “We were able to put the money to use immediately.”

Students, too, are passionate about the birth companion program.

“My involvement has given me invaluable experience in what it means to deliver therapeutic care. Providing education, support and comfort measures for women before and during birth has given me a greater appreciation for the needs and concerns of hospitalized patients as a whole,” said Sara Bartlett (B.S.’14/N) who participated in the doula project.

The Clinical Scholars grant in support of the doula project was recently renewed for an additional year, Bell said.

To learn more about the School of Nursing, contact Kate Haydon, senior director of development, at (804) 827-0020 or